Choosing the Right Image for your Book

When you are busy writing, editing, and crafting your book, the images you use may be an afterthought. Whether you are including them within the text of your book, or you need the image for the cover, it can be easy to find what you want online. However, it's important that you do this with caution so you don't get hit with fines or worse, have someone file a lawsuit against you. Here are a few ways to safely find images and—more importantly—how to make sure you are allowed to use them. 


Public domain image via the Library of Congress

Royalty Free 

If you decide to use royalty free images, it's important to know that this doesn't mean they're free. This means that once you purchase the image and pay the license fee, you're not tied to paying royalties on it. Be sure you read the license carefully, so you know exactly where you can use it and how often. 

If you want to use the image for a very specific purpose, you might find that you'll need to get an extended license. While some royalty image licenses allow you to use the image in a blog post or in the text of a book, they may not want the image used as a book cover or as part of the logo without their knowledge or permission. 

Popular royalty free image sites:

Public Domain

Public domain images are free to use by anyone without gaining permission. Public domain images are owned by the public and no one can ever own them, though someone may have at one point. Images and works of all kinds can arrive in the public domain through multiple avenues, but the four most common are:

  1. the copyright for the image has expired
  2. the owner of the work has not properly renewed the copyright
  3. the owner dedicated it to the public domain for use
  4. copyright law does not protect the work

Popular public domain image sites:

While the public domain can provide a wealth of free and usable images for your book and other projects, you have to remember that you can never own the image. Just as you were able to find and use the image without getting permission, so can anyone else. Whether it's on a blog, on another book, or tied to messages you don't agree with, it's possible that you and your readers could see the same image used elsewhere.

If that seems like an issue, you may want to consider images that you could own outright.

Rights Managed

If you want to own the image and use it closely with a product, then a rights managed image will be your best bet. Even though it costs more, you will own the rights to the image. You will be the only person using the image, and this way you won't see publications in your niche come out with the same pictures during your license period. And with any image, it's best rule of thumb to give credit to the artist, even if you aren't required to.

Popular rights managed image sites:

Depending on your project, one of these might be more appealing than another. For a historical book, old public domain photographs could be the added touch you need, where as more modern books may benefit from newer royalty free or rights managed images.

No matter what your subject matter, be sure to give careful consideration to the images you use and how you use them! You've worked hard on your book; don't let one image mess everything up!

Adam user

President & CEO,
Steuben Press

Adam Ellis has worked in the book industry since 2002, when he was first exposed to the wonderful world of Self Publishing. Over the years he has worked with thousands of authors and helped to produce, print and publish countless books.

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